Colorado has plains in the east, mountains in the west, and several great places to enjoy the state’s natural splendor between. Whether you're based in Colorado or just passing through on a long road trip, these scenic drives are some of the best not only in the state but in the entire U.S. Since many of the scenic drives pass through Colorado's endless mountains, they are also hyper-seasonal and often close during adverse road conditions, if not the entire winter. Always check a road’s status before embarking on your trip.
Colorado road conditions can also turn from perfect to terrible in a span of a few minutes. If you’re renting a vehicle, ask for an all-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicle in case of snow and ice and never attempt a Colorado road trip if you’re unsure about conditions or your driving ability.
Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park
U.S. Highway 34 stretches from Colorado all the way to Chicago, but it's the 48-mile stretch of this highway known as Trail Ridge Road that most drivers are interested in. From east to west, the Trail Ridge Road starts in Estes Park, Colorado, and winds through Rocky Mountain National Park before ending in Grand Lake. Since 1932, this drive has been one of the most popular and picturesque routes in the entire state. Topping out a whopping 12,183 feet, it's also the highest elevation you can reach in Colorado accessible by a paved through road. Even though it makes for a stunning road trip, don't forget to stop and get out of the car at the various viewpoints and trailheads along the highway.
Million Dollar Highway, Silverton
With a name like the Million Dollar Highway, expectations are high for this alpine drive, and it does not disappoint. The Million Dollar Highway is a 25-mile stretch of U.S. Route 550 located in Colorado between the towns of Silverton and Ouray that provides some of the best views but also requires some serious driving focus. The real beauty of the Million Dollar Highway is the 12 miles that wind and shoot through Uncompahgre Gorge to the summit of Red Mountain Pass, with views of what remains of the historic Idarado Silver Mine down below.
While many Colorado road trips are considered challenging and require skillful driving, many would consider the Million Dollar Highway dangerous. Only drive the Million Dollar highway if you’re confident of your skill, feel alert, and aren’t facing snow or ice.
Mount Evans Scenic Byway, Jefferson County
If you want to stand on the summit of one of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, you don't always have to wake up at 5 a.m. for a full day of vigorous hiking; you can drive up to at least one of them. The Mount Evans Scenic Byway starts approximately 60 miles west of Denver in Idaho Springs before spiraling up to the 14,264-foot-tall summit of Mount Evans. This scenic route was designed to maximize on its breathtaking viewpoints and also holds the distinction of being the highest paved road open to traffic in all of North America. The scenic byway provides grand vista views of Colorado’s Front Range, Echo Lake, and the natural beauty of the Rockies. Keep your eyes peeled for mountain goats, pikas, and other high-altitude critters.
Independence Pass, Aspen
There's more than one Independence Pass in Colorado, but the one you want to drive through for the best views is on State Highway 82 about halfway between the town of Twin Lakes and the skier's paradise Aspen. Like many of the state's most dramatic routes, the drive through Independence Pass crosses the Continental Divide and is one of the highest roads in Colorado, offering unbeatable views above the treeline. The summit of Colorado's highest peak, Mount Elbert, is visible from the comfort of your car but if you choose to pull over and get out, there are plenty of worthwhile viewpoints and trailheads along the way. When you’re finished, stop by Independence Ghost Town, an abandoned mining town right off Highway 82 just a few miles after Independence Pass if you're driving toward Aspen.
South Rim Road, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Usually overshadowed by the indomitable Rocky Mountains, Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a fantastic and underappreciated national park that includes the most dramatic and steepest parts of Black Canyon as it precipitously drops into the Gunnison River below. Located in the western part of the state about an hour south of I-70 at Grand Junction, Colorado, this park isn't as easy to reach from major cities like Denver. You can drive on either the north or south rim of the canyon, but it's the south rim that offers the most rewarding views.
The south rim entrance is about 13 miles from the town of Montrose, Colorado, and the drive along the scenic Rim Drive Road is only eight miles. But don't think that just because it's a short drive that it's not worth the trip; the deep ravines and painted walls of the Black Canyon are well worth the excursion.
Pikes Peak Highway, Cascade
Second only to the Mount Evans Scenic Byway, Pikes Peak Highway takes you way, way up to the peak of the 14,115-foot-high Pikes Peak. Only a few miles from Colorado Springs—about an hour south of Denver—the Pikes Peak Highway begins off U.S. Highway 24 and winds 19 miles to the summit of America’s favorite mountain, offering several opportunities for stops and viewing along the way.
This scenic highway has been shuttling visitors through meadows, lakes, and the natural beauty of Colorado since 1915 and might be Colorado’s most popular destination drive. Because of the large number of cars that drive this route, there is a toll for driving to the peak which ranges from $10–$15 per adult based on the season (kids are always $5).
Guanella Pass Scenic Byway, Georgetown
Guanella Pass gives many visitors their first taste of true Rocky Mountain driving. The 22-mile stretch known as the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway begins near the town of Grant, off U.S. Highway 285, and gives visitors a snapshot of Colorado’s natural splendor with views of peaks, majestic rolling landscape, and animals like beaver and bighorn sheep. Topping out at 11,669 feet, the scenic byway provides views of the Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans peaks.
Peak to Peak Scenic Byway, Estes Park
Established in 1919, the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway is the oldest of Colorado's 26 officially designated scenic drives. Just like Trail Ridge Road, it starts in the town of Estes Park right at the base of Rocky Mountain National Park, but instead of heading west, you'll start off going south on State Highway 7. The route extends for 55 miles and terminates in the town of Black Hawk, passing through Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, the Continental Divide, and several ghost towns from bygone mining days. Rivers in the area still hold traces of gold and kids will love the opportunity to stop and try panning for this precious metal.
Skyline Drive, Cañon City
No guardrails, no barriers. Just a single-lane country road perched high above the southern Colorado landscape. Skyline Drive starts at U.S. Highway 50 in Cañon City before rising 800 feet above the surrounding landscape, offering unbridled views of the area. At the end of Skyline Drive is a scenic outlook that looks over the highway, mountains, and more. Skyline Drive is only three miles long but along the drive you can stop at the Dinosaur Trackway, which features fossilized ankylosaur footprints from Colorado’s Jurassic period.
Boreas Pass Road, Breckenridge
Boreas Pass Road is beautiful year-round but is at its most ostentatious in the colors of autumn. Access to the road starts in the historical town of Como off of Highway 285, about 10 miles east of Fairplay or 70 miles west of Denver. In Como, you'll see signs directing you to Boreas Pass Road, which is 22 miles of stunning landscape until you reach the ski town of Breckenridge. During the drive, you’ll cross over the Continental Divide and the headwaters of the Blue and South Platte rivers, with several bike and hiking trails to stop at along the way. Try taking your drive during the wildflower bloom of late spring or during the shifting colors of Colorado’s autumn for a truly unforgettable trip.